Offering, distributing gifts is a political call from a political party: ECI

The polling committee tells the Supreme Court that it does not have the power to deregister parties.

The polling committee tells the Supreme Court that it does not have the power to deregister parties.

Giving or distributing gifts before or after an election is a political decision of a political party, the Election Commission of India (ECI) told the Supreme Court.

The polling body was responding to a petition filed by lawyer Ashwini Upadhyay that the promise and distribution of “irrational gifts” by political parties amounted to bribery and undue influence on voters. This vitiated free and fair elections in the country, according to the petition.

But the ECI took a hands-off approach, saying “whether these policies are fiscally viable or adversely affect the economic health of the state is a matter to be considered and decided by the voters of the state”.

The electoral body said it cannot regulate the policies and decisions that can be made by the winning party when it forms government.

“Such an action, without enabling legislation, would be an excess of powers,” the ECI said in its affidavit.

ECI referred to the Supreme Court’s own ruling in the S. Subramaniam Balaji case that the electoral body cannot intervene in promises made in election manifestos released by parties before dates are announced. elections, after which the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) was launched. in.

Parties consulted

He said the new MCC guidelines were developed in consultation with political parties, keeping in mind the potential influence gifts can have on a level playing field. A letter from the ECI had even advised the parties to submit their declarations accompanied by copies of manifestos.

The ECI disagreed with Mr Upadhyay’s request to seize election symbols from parties that promise gifts. The solicitor had wanted an additional condition that “a political party shall not promise/distribute irrational gifts out of public funds before elections” to be inserted into the Election Symbols Ordinance 1968.

Recognition and continuation of state and national parties rests on a touchstone – electoral performance, CIS countered.

“Prohibiting parties from pledging/distributing gifts from public funds ahead of elections may lead to a situation where parties will lose recognition even before displaying their electoral performance during elections,” explained the ECI.

The polling body also disagreed with the lawyer’s proposal in court to order the ECI to deregister parties that offer or distribute irrational freebies.

He said parties can only be deregistered if they have registered through fraud or tampering or if they have been declared illegal by the Center or have ceased to abide by the Indian Constitution.

“There is no provision to de-recognize a political party for the distribution of irrational gifts,” the ECI said.

However, the ECI said it had been asking the Center for years to arm it with power to deregister political parties.

In a letter to the Minister of Justice in July 1998, the Commissioner General for Elections stated that out of more than 650 parties registered with the ECI, only about 150 stood for election in 1998.

The letter was mentioned in another communication in July 2004 when the ECI sent out a series of 22 proposals for electoral reforms, including powers to deregister political parties.

Also in December 2016, the ECI had sent a batch of 47 electoral reform proposals to the Centre. These included suggestions for political party reforms. One of these proposals included the deregistration of political parties that exist only on paper in order to benefit from the income tax exemption.

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